Bloomberg: Expect Some Tweaks to Pricing Bill

This morning, the Mayor’s office praised the introduction of a congestion pricing bill in the State Assembly. At the end of the statement, Bloomberg drops a hint that the bill on the table is in for some fine-tuning:

We look forward to working with the Assembly, the Senate, the Governor and the City Council to work out the unresolved issues that have been raised, including mitigating the impact on lower-income drivers and ensuring that commuters who use Port Authority crossings are doing their part.

So, some effort is still underway to tweak the current bill or otherwise address the "New Jersey issue", even though, as Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala pointed out at Monday’s City Council hearing, Port Authority tunnels will generate $45 million in pricing revenue each year without changing the legislation one bit.

This issue could be resolved, as transportation expert Carolyn Konheim has suggested, by bumping up the congestion fee to $10 across the board. However, working out some sort of deal with the Port Authority without raising the fee seems more politically feasible at this point, especially in light of Sadik-Khan’s hearing testimony:

There are still some questions to resolve on the issue of a greater
Port Authority contribution to transit in New York. There is a legal
issue with charging different prices to different groups of people,
there is a political issue, because the Port Authority is a bi-state
agency, and there is the policy question — can the Port Authority
again support the MTA capital program? It participated in the first MTA
rebuilding program, from 1982-1986.

Offsetting part of the fee for low-income drivers, meanwhile, has long been rumored to be a pre-condition of Speaker Silver’s support. The Bloomberg administration has hinted that it is working on some sort of manipulation of the earned income tax credit to accomplish this.

  • mike

    I’ll all for passing CP, but by “mitigating the impact on lower-income drivers” (the vast majority whom will pay ZERO), I’m afraid we’re heading down a slippery slope.

  • Mark

    How will the income of these low-income drivers (an oxymoron as far as I’m concerned) be determined? Will they submit copies of their tax returns? Or is this just another outbreak of placard-itis?

  • Car Free Nation

    Mitigating the impact on lower income drivers establishes a precedent that transit costs should be means-tested. If this gets passed, there is a strong argument for means testing public transportation, which would be a greater good.

  • The greater good would be to implement progressive policy in the income tax code, where it is visible and it can work. Screwing around with lower level systems, “means testing” every thing you can, drags down efficiency without significantly redistributing wealth. It assumes income level can be proven often and reliably, which is both wrong and disturbing. It is the desperate, ineffectual resort of a left wing that hasn’t recovered from the Reagan years. But there isn’t going to be a better opportunity to restore the income tax code than right now; if the left would rather fight for sliding discounts on haircuts than rise to the occasion and fix things where they need to be fixed, then to hell with their politics.

  • Dave

    My numerous pleas for two-way tolls everywhere have been ignored so let’s try this:

    The PA toll of $8 is in fact $4 each way, but paid once unlike the QMT, Triboro and other MTA crossings which have two-way tolling.

    On this basis those crossing the Hudson and paying an $8 toll should only get a $4 credit toward the CP fee and have to pay an additional $4.

  • Spud Spudly

    Wouldn’t the best tweak to the CP bill have been to have called it something else right from the very start? This name “Congestion Pricing” is killing it.

    It says, “The streets are crowded and we’re going to clear them up by pricing out the users who can least afford to pay.”

    That’s distasteful to most people. The name is elitist. It’s undemocratic. It’s a stick that’s only being used against the most vulnerable drivers.

    Two suggestions:

    1) “Mass Transit Fee” — There’s something that’s hard to oppose on any kind of class basis. We already know that people are more supportive when they’re told about how the money will go to fund mass transit. And even drivers could be pitched on the idea by saying that improved mass transit will make their drives easier, and give them increased commuting options. It’s a carrot, not a stick.

    2) “Pollution Fee” or “Fresh Air Fee” — Who can oppose fresh air? Even the lowest income drivers have to acknowledge that their cars produce exhaust. You still give the money to mass transit, but you pitch it as a pollution measure that’s going to help poor kids avoid asthma, not as a penalty to weed out the lowest income drivers. Again, a carrot and not a stick.

    This whole thing should be rebranded. (Not that I want it to be — I think the name’s fine the way it is.)

  • Dave

    Actually giving a $4 credit to the PA toll-payers had to be the way the fee is charged otherwise the system is unfair to those who pay the MTA two-way tolls.

    If you pay $8 at the Holland Tunnel you pay nothing to CP and nothing to leave the city.

    If you enter via the QMT you pay $5 toll, plus a $3 CP fee and $5 to leave via the tunnel. If the toll was $10 round-trip you’d pay no CP fee.

    Reduce all tolls to their one-way equivalent before assessing CP fees. This will mean charging a $4 CP fee to those using the HT, LT or GWB and eliminate the perceived NJ benefit.

  • Ombud

    No, Dave, if you pay a round trip $10 MTA fare you pay no CP fee. The offset does not just apply to the in-bound trip.

  • Dave

    Are you talking the VNB? I’m talking QMT, BBT and other one-way MTA fees that are lower than the $8 CP fee. That’s where the issue is.

    Can someone clarify; do tolls on the TB, GWB and VNB, HHB and others alsp qualify for the offset?

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I’ve said, this is all about the placards. The police and fire unions certainly think so. And they have come out in opposition to CP, as reported here:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2008/03/police-fire-unions-come-out-ag.html

    Once again, there are the political class overlords, represented here, and the executive class overlords. The rest of us don’t matter.

    We just get taxes and in theory get whatever public services and space are not allocated by placard or other means.

  • uSkyscraper

    The NJ issue and one-way/two-way toll issue must be addressed. Yes, all should pay equally, which is exactly the point. Cut the money-hogging PA down on their tolls ($6 was plenty for structures that were paid off 50 years ago) so that at least some money from the PA bridges/tunnels goes to CP.

    And I agree, the two-way tolling is brutally unfair unless both directions get credited in the scheme. No reason that the two-way tolls couldn’t be changed to one-ways – just cut out the plaza going out and double the price. You can’t have crazy distortions ruining the whole scheme.

  • Dave

    I agree that toll inequalities need to be addressed but would argue that the solution is one-way tolls everywhere to end toll-shopping. Easy to install EZ-Pass and cameras at all crossings.

    Tolls on the East and Harlem river bridges also need to be implemented; just because the bridges are supposedly “paid off” doesn’t mean they are free to maintain.

  • Ed Meese

    Mark, I think the low income drivers Bloomberg refers to are the Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” Reagan used to talk about, many of whom, like Lew, don’t like riding the subway. They’ll get a rebate while the rest of the city’s low income population continues to ride mass transit.

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